When the young German Peter Handke published his first novel in 1970, he never thought that, half a century later, he would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. That book was entitled “The goalkeeper’s fear of a penalty” and was starred by a certain Josef Bloch, a former soccer goalkeeper and, in the first lines of the novel, a mechanic recently fired from the construction site where he worked. From that moment on, Bloch is left alone, he wanders around the city, rents a hotel room, gets drunk… Everything seems bland, unreal to him. He is alone in the world and anything is a threat to him. So much so that he even commits murder.
Contrary to what might appear from the title, there is no mention of football in that book. The penalty is a metaphor for the way in which the protagonist faces his new life. “The goalkeeper watched / how the ball rolled / over the line…” is said at the beginning of the novel. And that loneliness, that fear of failure is what transcends.
Juan Carlos Unzué has had to face many penalty shots during his sporting career. In some, the ball rolled over the line. Others, he stopped them with those electrifying reflections that characterized him. Years after his retirement, he returns to be placed under sticks because life has put a poisoned ball in the penalty spot. He no longer wears the kit with which he debuted with Sevilla Fútbol Club, that pink and black shirt and that high-waisted white shorts that many remember. He no longer has the youth of then. But, unlike Josef Bloch, instead of isolating himself from the world, he has decided to eat it in bite-sized pieces.
The sculptor Eduardo Chillida, who before dedicating himself to combing the wind in Donosti was a goalkeeper with Real Sociedad, maintained that his job was a mere matter of perspective. He argued that, when a goalkeeper left his goal towards the striker, the size of his figure was enlarged and, consequently, that of the goal was smaller, making it more difficult for the striker to conceive the goal. That said, a matter of perspectives.
I don’t know if Unzué was aware of that theory, but he is applying it to the letter and instead of hiding or taking refuge under the three posts, he has thrown himself forward so that all the strikers in the world see that it will not be so easy to beat him. And when a goalkeeper shows that attitude, Sánchez-Pizjuán collapses and becomes a clamor in defense of his warrior.
The most recent successful history of Sevilla Fútbol Club owes much to the goalkeepers. From that Monchi who started off stopping balls and now does not stop hitting real balls, going through the one already baptized as San Palop and ending with a certain Bono whose papers are already being arranged so that he can enter the Nervionian saints. All of them have brought glory to the club and shine to its showcases and they all have the recognition they deserve.
Now, Sevilla Fútbol Club also takes a step forward and does not reward a goalkeeper, but a human being. It rewards honesty, humility, commitment and solidarity. Rewards drive and courage. It rewards those who have made the sports motto “Never give up” their own philosophy of life. And it makes it a Legend so that the most important goal in the stadium, the one that guards the non-negotiable values of the Club, is safe. And to serve as an example to those of us who are privileged witnesses of his career. And so that future generations can continue to proudly shout “There it is! That is! It’s Juan Carlos Unzué!”
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The goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty